Sunday, 31 May 2015

Book review - "The Boatman" by Kat Hawthorne

Isabel Wixon is weird. Not only does she see dead things, but her only friends consist of a talkative ventriloquist’s dummy and the gentlemanly spider that lives in her hair. Real friends? Too hard. Inventing friends is much easier.
Inventing the Boatman—a terrible monster that lures kids into a strange sleeping sickness and never lets them go—probably wasn’t one of her better ideas though.
“Don’t take his oars,
W’ever you do,
No matter how weak he seems.
He’ll hold you fast,
And not let go,
And trap you in your dreams.”
This is a genre I'd like to see more books in, and Kat Hawthorne's "The Boatman" does not disappoint. I found the story was filled with great world building and character descriptions, though sometimes the story itself was weighted down with heavy exposition for a middle grade read. But this brings in more appeal to a young adult market and as it progressed I was drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Boatman until there was no turning back.
Isabel, herself, shuffles through her dreary life in her Aunt Slaughter's (great name!) mansion next to the family Slaughter graveyard, where she is harassed by ghosts and the mystery of the Boatman. I enjoyed her sidekick, the ever-loving Monty, who could make Isabel laugh and keep her positive. But Monty can't join Isabel in her dreams...and that is where the Boatman awaits her. I was thoroughly creeped out by both his eerie description as well as other characters she made come alive with her imagination (talking dolls haunted my nightmares as a child - need I say more?). Without giving away too much information, all I can say is "The Boatman" is the right mix of terrorizing thrill as it is clever and intriguing. This is one Hidden World I recommend reading!
On a side note, the illustrations are amazing - a perfect fit for this creepy middle grade tale. I fell in love with Dora Mitchell's menacing creation the instant I laid eyes on the cover, and was ecstatic to see more mixed in throughout the chapters.
Buy your copy today:
Amazon UK
Author Bio:
Kat Hawthorne tends to lurk (somewhat menacingly) in the darker corners of the literary world. In addition to a smattering of published poetry, Kat’s short fiction has appeared in such literary magazines as Underneath the Juniper Tree, Thrills Kills and Chaos, Infernal Ink, Dark Edifice, Shadows Express, Fiction and Verse, and The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society. Her literary novelette, The Oddity, was published by MuseIt Up Publishing on July 11th, 2014. In partnership with Enter Skies Entertainment, Kat wrote the narrative portion of Fearless Fantasy, an online role-playing game published by tinyBuild Games and hosted by Steam. As well as being a nerd of the highest order, under her “day name” Kat is a graduate of Ryerson University’s copy, substantive, and stylistic editing programs, and has since earned a specialization in editing books intended for young readers. She is an acquisitions, stylistic and copy editor at BookFish Books LLC and runs her own business where she offers her editing services on a freelance basis.
Please visit for more information about Kat’s writing, or to learn about her editing work.
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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Wednesday's Writing Prompt: Dear Diary

Photo credit to Ryan McGuire at

Day 1
I got this diary to pass the time while I sit at work. At the Department of Motor Vehicles people seem to like to come in bunches, usually at the most inopportune times, like coffee, lunch, and the end of the day. So to fill the rest of my monotony, I am going to write.

Of course, my life isn’t that interesting, so here’s my day so far.

When I was out for my smoke on my coffee break a long line of twenty-some military vehicles drove past on the road out to the base. Mr. Morris from the print shop was out having a smoke too, and waved me over.

“What d’ya reckon that’s all about?”

I shrugged. “Probably getting ready for their July training excercises.”

“It’s only May,” he grumbled, then took a long puff of his smoke, sucking in his whiskered cheeks. “I don’t like it, not one bit.” The smoke exhaled as he spoke.

I threw my smoke on the ground, suddenly not in the mood for socializing. This was my break for pete’s sake. I dealt with enough people at my wicket. I said my goodbyes as he lit up another smoke.

As I walked away I watched the last of the vehicles pass me. A soldier smiled and waved at me. He might have been cute, had I been able to see past his aviators. Mr. Morris was a paranoid old geezer who should have retired years ago. Nothing wrong with a bunch of new soldiers in town.

Mental note, start smoking out behind work from now on to avoid awkward conversations.

Day 10
Strange things have been happening in town. At least, that’s what my customers are telling me. Brent, our mailman, said that a high number of people aren’t emptying their mailboxes. It started on Friday, and has just built up from there.

“It’s nearly summer,” I said. “I’m sure they have better things to do than stay in this silly old town.”

“They should make arrangements for their mail then,” he frowned. “It makes my job difficult trying to cram everything into their mailboxes.”

Geez. Does anyone in this town not complain?

Day 12
Finally the weekend. I didn’t plan to write in this diary on my days off but the weirdest thing just happened. I was sleeping with my window open, letting the breeze come in, when I heard a scream from across the street. At first I thought I was sleeping, but I heard a car door open, so I jumped up to check.

A military vehicle was parked across the street at my neighbour’s place. She was babbling something about how her husband’s body had been stolen. They put her in the back of their truck, and went back into the house. Weirdest thing ever, they come back outside carrying a manikin. Can you believe it! The crazy old woman had been keeping a manikin inside with her, talking to it like it was her husband. He must have taken off, because I haven’t seen him around for a month or so.

You never know who’s crazy!

Day 20
No one has shown up for work for the last two days. Seriously! I would actually care if we were busy, but things have died down here at the DMV. Desperate for human contact, I took my smoke break outside, but not even Mr. Morris graced me with his presence, so I snuck across the street to check on him.

The door to the shop was open, so I went inside.



I popped my head in his office and saw him sitting at his computer.

“Busy day in the print world?”


“Hey, I’m talking to you.”

I nudged his shoulder and he fell forward. I screamed and ran back to work. I’ve never seen a dead guy before. I called the hospital but they were so backed up they said it would be hours. What’s happening to this place?

I went back outside for a smoke to calm my nerves, and then remembered Mr. Morris lying dead in his office. Mental note: it is time to quit smoking.

As I locked up at the end of the day I saw a military vehicle parked in the alley of the print shop. I snuck over and peered in the back door, curious as to why they came and not the ambulance.

Inside I could see them carrying a manikin. Again? They started to undress it from Mr. Morris’s clothing and pull it’s limbs apart. A high pitched scream filled the back of the shop, and I jumped back, bumping against the truck. What kind of manikin screamed!

A manikin leg fell out of the truck box, landing on the ground beside me. I pulled open the tarp and it was full of manikin parts. As I closed the tarp, something moved. I looked closer and saw that it was more than something: all the parts were moving.

I covered my mouth to stifle a scream and the door to the shop swung open.

“What are you doing back here?” a soldier yelled at me. Was he the cute one I’d seen weeks before? I didn’t care right now.

I picked up the leg on the ground beside me, and held it out between the two of us. “What’s going on?”

“Just relax,” he said, stepping toward me. “What did you see?”

An arm reached up from the truck behind him, grabbing onto his wrist. I turned and ran as fast as I could down the alley, carrying the leg with me. I weaved in and out between the buildings of downtown until I was so confused as to where I went, I didn’t think they could find me.

I didn’t dare to go home that night. Instead, I slept under the 4th Avenue bridge that runs close to my home. I kept the squirming leg close, just in case I needed it.

Day 30
I’ve managed to rustle up scraps, and raid a couple of stores to get by. I haven’t seen another human for days, other than the military soldiers. Every day they load up their vehicles with manikin parts and haul them from town, down the long road to the base.

I’m not sure how much longer I will be writing either. My left hand has started to turn an odd shade of beige and all of the suppleness of my skin has gone, turning to a smooth shell. What is this terrible affliction that has taken over our town?

I wonder how long it will be until the military soldiers are pulling apart my limbs? Will it hurt? Well I’m not going to sit here to find out. I still have the leg and it is still mobile, which tells me there’s hope. It’s time I ventured out of this place to see if there are others like me out there.

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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

3 Editing Tips to Strengthen Your Manuscript

I recently completed the final touches on a YA Supernatural novel. In the process I met with the local writer-in-residence, where I learned three great tips to add to my editing list. As you will see, my references are for 1st person POV, but you can easily change them to apply to the others. 1. Search and eliminate all "I see..." "I hear..." "I feel..." etc. These remove the reader from the moment. 2. Search all "and then" and decide which "one" of them applies and delete the other. In the odd sentence I kept the combo, but you will see that both are rarely needed together. 3. Search all "ly" words and you will be surprised how many needless adverbs you have. For instance: she said sarcastically...she mimicked. There are better words in the English language to replace adverbs with -- start learning them! Hours later my mss became 100+ words lighter. Now, back to the drawing board to try to get from 55,000 words, up to 60,000 words for my publisher!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Creating the Author Brand

There are a multitude of options for an author to promote their work and market themselves. The ones who are overnight successes are rare, and in truth, there was a lot of work behind the scenes that put them where they are. Though it may seem like another job in itself, an author should put a substantial amount of time into promoting themselves. I took business classes after graduation. We had very little money and I desperately wanted to take English, but my parents were practical and pushed me towards business school, specifically computer programming (Y2K was on the horizon). This was decades ago, and I resented it at the time (well I actually hated it), but now as I become a writer starting to take possibilities of writing more seriously, I am glad to have the business foundation that I have. In business school I learned a lot in my marketing class about developing a brand. I think this is the most important thing an author needs to keep in mind to build up their platform, rather than focusing on one book. It is like a foundation of a house, if it’s not strong it affects everything you add on top. Where does one start? With facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube, blogs, and more, it can be daunting. The best place to begin is to create a home base: develop your website. There are a number of places, like Wix and Weebly that let you do this for free with very little advertising of your own. You can use templates or tweak the site yourself. This is where my programming came in handy: I was able to use a little html to specialize a few things. But honestly, anyone who can cut and paste can create a website through these providers. I also found a local web provider and bought the name, and he redirected it to my long and awkward free website name. Is it perfect? No, but right now it all only costs me $15.00 a year. Next, I created a logo for myself, using PowerPoint. Did you know you can save a PowerPoint slide as a jpeg? It was as easy as inserting clipart and tweaking it how I wanted it to look. I could have bought stock art to use off a website, but I was trying to keep my costs as close to nil as possible. This is when I launched my logo for Melanie McFarlane Books. The next thing I did was create a facebook page and a twitter account, both free! I spent a few months learning about Twitter by using google for ideas. There is a ton of free information on the web! That was the easy part. Now I needed to promote. I started connecting with other writers, joined groups, and helped others promote their work. Trust me – most writers notice it and appreciate it and when it comes to when I need them to do the same I trust they will. Over the last six months I found the value in creating a blog through Blogger (again, free!) and I started talking about my writing journey, connecting with publishers to offer book reviews, and more. I learned it’s all about making connections and helping others, over just self-promotion. I even found a couple of blogs to help promote my book, which is no easy task. Just like finding a publisher, it takes research and locating the right fit. I’ve created a youtube account where I’ve posted a book trailer (I made for free in PowerPoint), and a book teaser, as well as a funny video of our cat. I’m learning my platform must reach out to my readers beyond the books I want to write, in a way to connect with them and keep them coming back. They don't want to hear an endless barrage of you promoting yourself. They want to see other aspects about you. In the future I will look at podcasts, interviews, and more. The options are endless. As for instagram, well it’s the last place I thought would be possible to promote writing. But my publisher loves it – fans post photos of books, and they play these scavenger hunt instagram games by tagging each other. Sound silly? Sometimes that’s just what readers want – to see that an author can be fun. I’m still learning about this, but I’m trying. Now I am focusing on participating in Goodreads groups to try to build my presence there. Where better to look for readers than the world’s largest book review site! Your publisher does not provide you with a publicist, only distribution and their own bits of marketing. But remember, they have a number of other books to promote! If you don’t want to disappear behind upcoming book launches, take matters into your own hands. Ultimately you need to research what things are working for the genre and age group you are writing for. Yes, children don’t buy books themselves (usually), but their parents do, so don’t ignore the importance of an online presence. And why wait until you have a book, start building your following now. As a writer-in-training you have a lot to offer – don’t underestimate yourself.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Wednesday's Writing Prompt: Beyond the Yellow Door

In a fun attempt to bring new ideas to my "writing board" I've joined the talented Vanessa Barger's blog ring. See my story, "Beyond the Yellow Door" below based on this photo:

Beyond the Yellow Door

Siri knew the path by heart, having done it every week since she was a little girl. First, follow the tulips past the moonstones, all the way to the lone woman. From there you turned left and it was just a hop, skip, and a jump over the creek and then a sharp right to reach the cottage where treasures were hidden beyond the yellow door. It had been ten years since Siri started the run, and every week she looked forward to what lie in waiting.

She slipped through the keyhole and was immediately struck by a strange odor. Usually the witch that lived in the cottage spent the day baking to prepare for her exchange of treats for Siri’s fairy dust. But there was no smell of cinnamon buns or bread in the air; only something sour that made Siri’s toes curl.

The other thing that was missing was any sign of light. Shadows drifted about, like a heavy fog that had settled inside. Siri shuddered in the uncomfortable atmosphere, but still proceeded to flutter inside, searching for the baking itself.

She flew over to the table but it held only one dirty dish. This was so unlike the old witch. Where was she and where were the treats? Siri landed next to the plate and saw that the remnants of food had started to mold, and flies had left their young to hatch alone on its surface. She was confused. What had happened here?

A breeze inside stirred up the shadows, collecting them into a whirlwind in the center of the table. She ducked down, behind the plate and waited to see what was going on.

“What a mess,” a sharp voice came from the whirlwind. “Every single time I have to clean up after you. I’m sick of it.”

“Just be glad I came and got you before it was too late.” A second voice filled Siri’s ears.

“Too late! I’d say six days is a little long to leave body.”

Body! Siri ducked lower and a shiver ran up her tiny spine.

She peeked around the plate and saw that two figures had appeared. The first was a tall lean creature with small horns from her head. She looked like an ancient fairy, called fae, but Siri had only seen pictures in history books. The second was a short, plump pixie, with small, stubby, wings in comparison to Siri’s long slender ones. The pair walked to the end of the table, opposite Siri, and looked over the edge.

“How did this happen again?” the tall one asked. “You were supposed to get in, get the stuff, and leave. You had ample time.”

The little one threw up her hands. “I did get what you asked for, but then I saw some ground wolfstooth sitting on the shelf nearby. You know how I get when I’m hungry, I couldn’t help myself. I snuck over to pinch some for a snack and WHAM! The box closed shut on me.”

“It was a trap.” The other creature rolled her eyes. “You are so gullible.”

“Am not. When the witch came back she saw me and came to grab me for lunch. I wasn’t about to let her turn me into soup, so as soon as the box opened I blew the ground wolfstooth into her eyes. She fell backwards, banged her head on the table, and the rest is history.”

“Unbelievable. And now we have a witch to dispose of. Do you know how hard it is to hide a witch? If the council catches wind of this all of my plans will be ruined! Now go over to the other end and take off her shoes.”

Siri panicked, looking around to see where to hide. If the pixie found her she’d never make it out alive. Fae were notorious in story books for keeping no witnesses. She crawled to the edge of the table, and peered over the edge. Two pointy witch books stuck out from underneath a swarm of black flies. Ewww.

The pixie’s footsteps grew closer and Siri knew she only had one choice. She flipped over the edge of the table, disappearing into the buzzing horde below. The flies were like mindless beasts, all bumping against one another as they tried to get low enough to feed on the decay that lied beneath them. Siri forced her way through, stepping on their soft bodies as she hid from the perpetrators up above.

“Got the shoes off!” The pixies voice reached to Siri’s ears through the incessant buzzing.

“Now get her hat!”

“Too many flies. I’m not going that way.”

“Let me come see what you’re complaining about now.”

Oh no! Siri moved faster, if they got ride of the flies where would she hide?

“PURGE!” the sharp voice cut through the air.

With the one command a black shadow whisked from above, sucking the flies up one by one. Siri ran along the horde, not daring to fly lest she be sucked up herself. As the witch’s rotting face appeared up ahead, Siri knew she only had one choice. She ducked under the last of the flies and pried apart the witch’s stiff lips, slipping in between them where she waited in hiding.

She covered her mouth as she gagged at the putrid smell of death, not wanting to give away her location. The sounds above were muffled, but Siri could tell the pixie was close.

“Hat is in my possession now.”

“Good, roll her over.”

Siri felt the witch’s body flip over as she knocked around inside the mouth. When everything was calm she pried open the lips to hear what was happening.

“It’s time to make this look like an accidental fire.”

Siri’s heart jumped in her throat. A fire! Siri pried herself out of the witch’s mouth, onto the wooden floor below. Shots of fire burst around the kitchen, lighting up all of the shelves of goodies and magic. Smoke filled Siri’s nose as the witch’s body began to smolder.

“Empty the rest of that container. We may as well take it all now.”

“Got it. Let’s get out of here.”

Puffs of smoke whisked upward and Siri jumped out to see the whirlwind wish the two creatures away. The fire jumped across the thatch roof, spreading to the other side of the cottage. If Siri didn’t run now, she’d never get out. But first she needed to see what was so important for the pixie and the fae to get their hands on.

She flew to the top of the table and saw a small jar lying empty on its side. As Siri grabbed it, a beam from up above crackled, crashing onto the table beside it. She jumped away, flying to the yellow door, where she escaped through the keyhole just in time.

Outside she stumbled in the air, crashing into the shallow creek below. She swam to the bridge, pulling herself up onto the rocks, as he body shook from coughing. When it subsided she rolled to her back and held the jar up. Its label was gone, somewhere in the creek below. All that remained was one rounded, pink petal.

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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Publishers Who Accept Non-Agented Writers

The writing world is a fickle one and I didn't realize this until I started taking my writing seriously. There are so many publishers, agents, and fellow writers out there that it's hard to know who to submit to, who to befriend, and who to trust. I subbed a few agents before finding a publisher I could submit to directly (Month9Books). And then there's the long waits for submissions, if you don't find those that allow for simultaneous submissions. Some say 3 months, while others I found say a year! Who can wait that long just to hear back from one place? 3 quick tips I learned in this process of submitting are the following: 1. Find an agent/publisher that wants the kind of novel you are writing. I am not only talking word count, age group, and genre, but also see if they have books like yours already published/represented. If you aren't what they are looking for, or are too similar to something they already have, then the odds are they aren't interested. 2. Spend time editing. This is really important. No matter how good the premise, if you come across as a writer with no knowledge in grammar or spelling, the agent/publisher may not make it past the first page of mistakes. Don't let a great idea go to waste for what a simple Spell Check can do for you. Other tools I've used are Grammar-ly as well as paid editors (see #3). 3. If you pay to have an editor look over your manuscript, make sure they like your genre. Nothing is worse than having an editor read your middle-grade manuscript when they only like literary-feminist works. Do your research! Would you pay a plumber to do your wiring on your home? No. Find the appropriate editor. This is your precious manuscript. As for those wanting to submit to publishers out there, I've found a few that I would consider myself: 1. Month9Books 2. Entangled Publishing 3. Rebelight Books 4. Bookfish Books But regardless who you choose to submit to, DO YOUR RESEARCH!